Ayalew Mesfin: Che Belew!

The Press notes say that Ayalew Mesfin is among the greats of 1970s Ethiopian music legends, the music he created with his Black Lion Band among the funkiest to arise from Addis Ababa.

His records were mostly 7in singles and reel-to-reel tapes collected for this and it’s a charming and enjoyable album. The recordings are not top notch but plenty good enough and it’s cheerful and fun. We guess Mesfin was played on the radio and at parties, and it’s all very approachable, with a definite western pop influence.

The vocals are, we assume, sung in Amharic but sound to us like the singing you get in Bollywood movies, faintly reedy and covering a lot of notes.

The rhythm section varies: opener Libe Menta Hone (My Divided Heart) suggests an Afrobeat reggae mix while Hedech Gara Zura (She Left Across The Mountain) is more African. Tereterkush Betam (I Suspect You Are Unfaithful) on the other hand has a more Western beat, possibly even a drumkit. Yecew Neger (Amazed By Humanity) is more soul; other tracks are funk.

The instrumentation is possibly the most familiar: funky, jazz-tinged electric guitar and brass, the guitar often played through fuzz pedals and distorted. There’s usually an interesting bass line – most songs seem to have electric bass. The end result is a happy mix of the exotic and the familiar, all very enjoyable.

Che Belew! means March Forward!; we note the Ethiopian national anthem is March Forward, Dear Mother Ethiopia, but don’t know if the two facts are related.

This is out on Now-Again Records and there’s a vinyl 5LP boxset. A bit of a must-have for any fans of world music, and a good Christmas gift if you have one in the family.

Help the artist, or at least his family here

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